What can I say about spending over 2 hours in the company of a British Music legend, spanning more than 40 years of music history, it was such an accomplished performance of some of the best music from the 70’s right through to his present record.
That’s the difference between Paul Weller and his peer group, whilst many have fallen by the wayside or sadly departed, others have plumped out, lost their energy and hair, and are doing random festival slots or a Xmas showcase tour each year. Weller meanwhile has kept himself trim, still holding a strong political stance and some unrelenting energy matching artists that are 20 years younger. He has constantly created new music, released 13 solo albums, and the latest one A Kind Revolution is as good as anything he has done before. So, his set list tonight is a choice one, and songs that he hasn’t played in the last 40 years have resurfaced as new crowd favourites, even the occasional dip into the Style Council 80’s repertoire.
Leeds Arena is the choice of venue tonight and whilst is hasn’t sold out, there are circa 6000 fans here, some of which have been following him for decades. The Arena can feel a bit cavernous at times, but there are 2 video screens to either side of the stage, constantly streaming live black and white images of the stage performance.
Opening with 2 tracks from his Saturns Pattern album, I’m Where I Should Be and White Sky we are warmed up nicely. Weller is wearing his now standard long sleeved dark blue shirt, suit trousers and some very mod 2 tone shoes. His hair now a little greyer and is longer than it has been for a few years, but that craggy lined chiselled face is lean and mean.
“We are gonna play some new stuff and lots of old stuff tonight” He isn’t really noted for his smiling or in-between song banter, but the modfather remains the epitome of brit cool up there on stage. His two side partners are bassist Andy Crofts and long-time cohort Steve Cradock. Cradock joined him during the Wild Wood solo recording work and never left, the workaholic now straddles both Ocean Colour Scene and Weller solo live performances.
Nova is up next, one of the great tracks from his latest album and also the name of his 8th child born only last July. The first set of 7 songs are really taken from the last 2 albums, the only one stepping further back is From the Floorboards Up which is a long-forgotten road trip single that charted really well (No 6 I think) in 2005.
Playing a quite superb piano ballad Long Long Road, Weller then tells everyone that “The 80’s was a shit decade for music, but this was alright” his prelude to Have You Ever Had It Blue and tonight’s version had been reworked to be a little less jazzy. Closely followed by another Style Council track My Ever Changing Moods, both sounding much more Northern Soul than 80’s.
The move from those tracks to a totally psychedelic funkout of new track She Moves With The Fayre was inspired, but the biggest cheer of the night so far was reserved for the intro to Man in the Corner Shop, a Jam classic that had all the gents of a certain age singing the la-la-la-la-lah chorus – half empty plastic pint glasses waiving in the air. Amazing how you can still recall obscure lyrics like “He is jealous of the man in the corner shop, He is sick of working at the factory, says it must be nice to be your own boss (really)”, but such songs resonated at the time for these people, a working-class lad singing his social commentary lyrics about the British class system. Not a lot has changed since he wrote that song aged only 21. A point which he makes all too clear introducing Eton Rifles and dedicating it to Jacob Rees-Mogg “What a F-ing drip, he is the new face of the Tories you know”.
Never wanting to stray too far from political or social comments, Shout to the Top is another blast back to those halcyon 80’s years of white trousers and loud bright shirts. It is given a more soulful twist tonight, and some major dancing breaks out in the arena standing area. Probably a good thing he went from that into You Do Something To Me as we all need a breather during this lengthy set.
Weller allows his 2 frontmen to introduce a track each – Cradock had already introduced Hung Up earlier, and now Andy Crofts announces Woo Se Mama which wasn’t received with a massive response, a shame really, as it is a stand out track from the latest record. Live it has a life of its own and Weller changes from guitar to keyboard halfway through to keep the momentum moving.
Peacock Suit sees the swagger and anguish continuing to seep out of his every pore, and the end of the 1st set was a strange choice of Whirlpools End. For most artists 22 songs would be the whole setlist, however, for us we see the stage getting ready for a seated acoustic session – and even drummer Steve Pilgrim has a guitar in his hand.
This first encore is worth the ticket price alone, it featured 2 classic Jam tracks (English Rose and That’s Entertainment), a new song from the latest album (Hopper), one of his first amazing solo singles (Wild Wood) and Out of the Sinking a fan favourite live track from Stanley Road.
The second encore we get the full band back and another 4 songs. Weller jokes with Cradock saying this was the first track they ever played together “Whilst he was still in Status Quo”. The Weaver is such a brilliant song, 1st line “Can you put a smile back on, all these faces”, I look around the room and everyone is totally fixated on the stage loving every second of this, obviously anticipating a grand finale. They aren’t disappointed, but first we get Broken Stones, a record that should have been huge and strangely has gained more popularity in later years without being re-released. Weller is at the piano again, but it doesn’t detract from the audience singing along to every word.
A young lad walks out with an electric guitar to stand next to Cradock, it turns out it was his son Cassius, and he plays the chord riff for Start , another Jam tune – which enables his dad to play the solo.
The expected finale of Town Called Malice comes with all the feisty verve you expect from a 40 yr old – except Weller is approaching 60 later this year! He might not have been a changeling like Bowie, or a funked up innovator like Prince – but as Paul Weller enters his next decade, he is already one of the great British rock/pop artists of all time, remaining current and still producing quality tunes and putting on fantastic live shows. Catch the Changing Man on this tour while you still can – That’s Entertainment – sha-la-la-la-lah!
Live Review & Photography by John Hayhurst of Paul Weller live at Leeds Arena on Friday 23rd February. John has his own great photography website here: https://www.snapagig.com